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Vitamin C, E supplements don't prevent cancer

A study released last week finding Vitamin C or E pills are ineffective in warding off heart disease also do not help prevent cancer in men.

"At least in the context of two very common outcomes -- cardioprotection and chemoprevention -- we see no compelling evidence to take vitamin E or C supplements," one of the study's authors, Dr. Howard Sesso, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told the Washington Post.

The findings are expected to be presented by Sesso on Sunday at an American Academy of Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in Washington, D.C.

The study included almost 15,000 male physicians who were randomly assigned to take a 500 milligram vitamin C supplement daily and 400 international units of vitamin E every other day, or placebo pills for the 10 years of the study. All of the men were over the age of 50 at the start of the trial. (Washington Post)

Despite hopes of vitamin E helping to prevent cancer, after an average of eight years, there were 1,929 cases of cancer, including 1,013 cases of prostate cancer. However, rates of prostate cancer and of total cancer were similar among all four groups (Associated Press)

"Well-conducted clinical trials such as this are rapidly closing the door on the hope that common vitamin supplements may protect against cancer," Marji McCullough, nutrition chief at the American Cancer Society told the Associated Press. "It's still possible that some benefit exists for subgroups that couldn't be measured, but the overall results are certainly discouraging.

About 12 percent of Americans take supplements of C and E. The new study does not mean these vitamins have no value, just that they didn't prevent cancer in this group of doctors, who may be healthier than the general population, Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center told the Associated Press.

The best bet, Shields told the Associated Press, is to do things that are known to prevent the disease — eat right, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise.